Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why Chennai Needs A Hindi Lesson

This blog post is in response to this one (please read it first) - Why Chennai can't and won't speak Hindi

Tamil is a beautiful language. Just like any other language that is old enough to have the privilege of being cured over generations of poets, writers, etc. One should learn Tamil to be able to understand the beautiful poetry that can only be understood in the language in which it was written - I have been read translations of a few by my friends and even those are a joy to listen to. A lot of other languages have beautiful words, poems and writers. Tamil has many more of these because it is that old - compare this to a library, the older the library the more chances of it having more valuable knowledge.
It is absolutely legit for a tamilian to take pride in her own language. It is in fact absolutely necessary to do so. If our future generations are to gain from the knowledge that has been collected over so many centuries, we need to protect the medium in which that knowledge flows forward. However, while pride is welcome and necessary, ego is NOT. And quite a few ignorant tamil folk that I have interacted with seem to be flirting with the pride-ego border quite a lot when it comes to Tamil (the language and the culture), even when they are such humble and modest people in all other respects.
So, why does 'Chennai need a hindi lesson'? There are 2 reasons:

#1. Chennai needs to become more accepting of other cultures in the country. If you have ever been to Chennai, you would know that as a city it is not very accommodating of others' cultures. While I agree with the said blog post that there is no need for Hindi in Tamil Nadu, one must understand that being instantly rude and judgmental of a person because she speaks in Hindi is not something that any city should be proud of. It is NOT OK for an auto driver to cheat a person because she would not be able to speak Tamil. And it is NOT OK for the others observing this to play along (the cops included) because the person being looted is a Hindi speaker. Chennai, my dear friends, is hostile to Hindi speakers and this makes me sad because I love Hindi.
Also, there are quite a few people (like me) who try to pick up Tamil when they come to Tamil Nadu. Trust me, we make a very genuine effort but it is a tough language to learn. We give it a try but it takes time, effort and a good amount of support from the native speakers of the language - the support that Hindi speakers rarely get. I have been lucky to have found friends who could lend me that support and encourage me to learn the tiny bits of Tamil that I know.

#2. Tamil is a lovely language and that is why Tamilians must learn Hindi and other Indian languages. There is so much that Tamil can contribute to literature. Why must we build a cultural wall around something so beautiful? Culture is curated by being assimilative and inclusive. A culture that closes it's doors to outside influences would eventually suffer. I'm not asking the Chennai folk to integrate the rough and rude attitude that Delhi brings into their culture. I'm asking them to integrate the 'attithi devo bhava' of a punjabi home, I'm asking them to add the sweet smell of the gujarati kitchen to their homes, I'm asking them to add the nascent enthusiasm of a Bihari youth into their culture. How can one enrich their own culture with a closed mind and a repulsive attitude towards anyone who would not speak their language?

I compared Tamil to an old, invaluable library earlier. What good is a library if it closes it's doors and only those who are inside can make use of it? A good library let's the curious mind to step inside its doors and let's the enlightened step out to spread the knowledge!
I'm very thankful to my friends who could help me in understanding the Tamil culture (to a certain extent) by letting me explore, by letting me question, by letting me fail so many times with supreme patience. But, I must tell you that most of these were people who understood other cultures themselves. They understood Hindi (as a language) and wanted to learn new things themselves. These were people who were curious to know how my part of the world worked. We both gained tremendous knowledge and this is how things should function. Inclusivity must prevail, even if it comes at the cost of a rotting ego that fuels political ambitions and cultural divides that all of us have come to love so dearly that we would go to any extent to protect it.
Let's open up and be more accepting of each other. Let the ignorant UP wala bhaiya live in Chennai and learn a thing or two about computers and let the lungi clad Chennai anna teach delhi how to make good sambhar. This is the only way we all can progress as a nation!

PS: Comments are welcome. Please do not be hateful. Please be logical.


Ken said...

I spent about 20 years in Tamil Nadu. Not in Chennai or any sizable city but a very quiet little township whose inhabitants came from all over India. It still was Tamil Nadu.

I remember how hostile the retail sector was to non-tamil speakers 15 years ago. Eventually (~10 years), they realised, these non-natives also have money to spend. Things today are completely different from how things were when i was a kid.

Rickshaw drivers try to pull one on everybody including my boyfriend who is tamil, was born and brought up in Chennai. So no one ethnic section is singled out.

I prefer not to speak tamil whenever possible. I'm just not very comfortable with it. Even in a clumsy little place like thanjavur, people (excluding scumbags) have always been gracious and even sweet to me. It all depends on how you behave. A lot of non-natives harbor a deep-seated contempt for the culture and it shows. Nobody wants to be nice to someone who clearly thinks he/ she is above the people they're surrounded by.

Bangalore is difficult too. I speak kannada but i can't read it. Finding an address using the lane markers is impossible. Everything, including the numbers are in kannada! So much for being inclusive.

I do not know how it is everywhere else in India but Karnataka is only as inclusive as Tamil Nadu is.

Prasoon Joshi said...

I can't agree more with you Ken!
All I'm saying is that when one does not have 15 years to spend, one likes to have a little more smiles along the way than one gets. About Karnataka (Bangalore to be specific) I found things a lot better as an outsider.
Again these feelings vary a lot from a personal experience/perspective.

Abi said...

I think any state is as accommodating as you are.A lot of ppl in TN don't like the idea of learning Hindi as it is not an easy language to learn,just as you found it difficult to learn Tamil. Other than that Tamil Nadu is a place where everyone co-exists, quite happily. People from other parts of India who have been here for a long time are testimonials to that. However, when someone is new to this place and chooses to complain over every single thing, ofcourse we are proud enough to mirror the attitude. As you can see, all the posts from TN are responses to not-so-likeable posts on a similar context.

As for love of the language, most of the Tamil speaking guys here have half-baked knowledge of Tamil literature.So its def not about acceptance of other languages. Its def not about any kind of animosity of learning or accepting sth new. We dont expect u to speak in Tamil so dont expect us to speak in Hindi. As simple as that.

As for autowalas, they fleece the locals no less.No kidding.

Chennai is as friendly,as giving,as accommodating and as much fun as you are willing to be.

Prasoon Joshi said...

Abi, all I'm saying is that stereotyping is essentially evil.
It is ok to snub off an insolent north indian who goes about troubling people on the streets but it is not ok to generalize that reaction and extend it to people who are genuinely accepting and wish to explore other cultures. I can say this because I have been there long enough to say it. I've been a 'nice guy' and not got back a similar reaction all the time. quite a few people i met were very nice.

Abi said...

Mmmm..Probably it's not about you at all.

I've been to North Indian and South Indian weddings and in my opinion, the former was def much more loud(in good terms). People here tend to come across as less expressive comparatively.. lesser than what you may have been used to.

Maybe thats why even the nice guys feel that way. Well, the good news is, they probably may behave the same way to all the strangers, even to people from the same state. So it's more to do with them than to do with you.

Maybe we dont complain cos we have been here all our lives so we know what to expect.

Srikanth said...

I am a bangalorean,with a little broad perspective. at least I think so. What I don't understand is why should chennaites learn Hindi?? Because you like it?? Is nt tht silly?? It's like expecting ppl from Delhi to learn kannada, cos I might go on a holiday there ??? Although I agree tht ppl should open up a little, be welcoming. May be english cos tht could help their economy.

arun ks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
arun ks said...

Well.Looks like a healthy discussion on language lesson is going on here.
I am born brought up in Tamil nadu.I was lucky enough to have made non tamil speaking friends who helped me widen my perspective.Been out of Tamil nadu for more then three years.I have done considerable part of travelling to many locations in India apart from Tamil nadu.
Being Hostile to any new comer is consistent with all location irrespective of the language or the geographical locations that i have known so far.New comer with proper attitude and little bit of patience can always survive in any location, may be in some amount of time he can even end up calling that place as home. this is also human nature.
Auto drivers seen two sides of them, surprising genuine and irritatingly arrogant(and many more fits here).
Regarding Pride and Ego many are really standing without even knowing the very ground on which they are standing both morally and ethically.In our times the geographical divisions which existed for many many years have started loosing its significance.But people are yet to adapt.What i see is that its the human values in a broader sense thats to be questioned here.Rather then adapting with a thought fuelled by language, culture and tradition I believe atleast in the generation to come, if people are respected and acknowledged as fellow humans the adaptation can progress in a peaceful and better way.Hope atleast the future has the better side compared to all that bitter things that have happened so far.

Ken said...

My lifestyle and my civil rights get strangled in Chennai. They get strangled a little less in Bangalore. That is only because I conform to a particular social status.

If you were born insanely rich; So rich you could live practically in any country in the world and not have to alter your lifestyle one bit. For such a person, India is a totally different place. India does not have any of the flaws we are so sick of seeing.

It all depends on the circles you move in. You found your circle in Bangalore. That's why you feel at home. You didn't find such people when you lived in TN. Doesn't mean they don't exist. :)

Anonymous said...

Tamils will speak even chinese, hindi, german when required..If want them to speak only hindi there just dont go..I dont expect a bihari to speak tamil with me when i tour there

Ruchira said...

A teacher when teaches the class if starts speaking in a language unknown to his students, would never be able to make his students understand the subject. It is very obvious that if you need to make someone understand what you want to say, speak in a language which can be understood by the other person; hence the need of a common language. If we have to debate on why Hindi and why not English, then I would go with Hindi as it is the first official language of India if not the national language. Moreover, what is the harm in learning a language which is widely used in all other parts of one's nation .Isn’t that the same logic why we learn English first and then Japanese or Mandarin or French???
If we are a part of India, why not learn first official language of India and then learn second official language of India? However, I also support that if you are in Rome do as romans do… hence learn the local language too. But again….. Tali ek hath se to nahi bajti… .. 
It is very true that India is able to save the culture only because it has not stagnated and has continued learning from other cultures and mixing with them simultaneously maintaining its own separate identity. So the ones who have both fear and love for Tamil and wish that it should be preserved, we need to multiply the no. of Tamil speaking people by being helpful to others for learning Tamil. First good step would be try to learn Hindi. By that we also gain something, English we already know, why not learn a new language? Unfortunately, we can support/learn languages that can connect us better to the other parts of world but we oppose/at least seem reluctant to learn those languages which help us in interacting better with other parts of our own nation. Agree or not Hindi is still known and understood by more people in India compared to English. The very fact that Hindi is not a regional language and a widely spoken/acceptable language across the country makes it worthy of being used for easy communication.
Let us look at the same as “willingness” to learn Hindi rather than “need”/ “compulsion” to learn Hindi.
If staying in Tamil Nadu requires knowledge of Tamil, staying in Karnataka requires knowledge of Kannada, staying in Maharashtra requires knowledge of Marathi, then being a part of Hindustan/India requires one to have knowledge of Hindi as well.
P.S. In my opinion learning all Indian languages should be mandatory ( at least official languages of all states) in schools and colleges.

Dee said...

Well said Ruchira. I completely agree :)

Anonymous said...

1. Tamil (also Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu) belongs to Dravidian group of languages. Hindi (also Urdu, Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali) belongs to Indo-Aryan group of language. So Tamilian will have difficult time to learn Hindi (which is from altogether different language group) just like how difficult it was for you to learn Tamil.
2. So according to your arguement, a South Indian should know 1.his own mother tongue + English (for college) + Hindi. SO we should know 3 languages from 3 different language families. Do you know how difficult it is? Isn't it unfair? Instead, why not north Indians learn English? So that we both will know 2 languages (Tamil+English or Hindi+English) and let us communicate in English which would also be useful for both of us in world level?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have a solution. Let us invent a new language and make that the one and only national and official language of India and ban all other (regional / state wise languages).
Then there will be ONLY one language in India ... problem solved.
Hahaha ... I am just joking ...
I love my India and I love all our regional languages, cultures and food.
India is awesome with it's beautiful diversity, let us appreciate this and be jointly proud and happy to be Indians.

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